revealed at a most propitious moment, by one of those mysterious incidents in human affairs which, without presumption, may be called providential. This event, however, syddeply furnishes us with a powerful interest in the shortest and safest way across the Isthmus, and so renders an enlightened account of any portion of it acceptable.

These volumes treat ably of the condition of Nicaragua, one of the republics of Central America; of its lakes; its gigantic volcanoes; its sugar, cotton, cocoa, coffee, indigo, rice, and grain; its numerous cattle, and precious metals; its sulphur, and other valuable minerals; its population of 25,000 whites, of Spanish origin, 15,000 negroes, 80,000 pure Indians, and 130,000 mixed people, and an occasional group of foreign settlers, planters and merchants, from all civilized nations, with the late addition of many citizens of the United States, coming to and fro upon Californian expeditions, or engaged upon the canal between the two oceans. To these details, along with curious archæological disquisitions and drawings, Mr. Squier adds a full account of the proposed canal. His title-page, with reason, includes "scenery in the list of topics; and his book is crowded with the glories of nature, waters, mountains, and forests; and with many a picture of the rich results of man's industry in a soil of surpassing fertility, which even civil convulsions cannot reduce to barrenness. The narrative on these heads is for the most part in good taste, and altogether free from the disagreeable polemics which deform the work whenever the British name is mentioned. In proportion, too, as Mr. Squier would lower that name, he would somewhat ludicrously elevate his own 'great republic, to which has fallen the dominion of the new world, and will fall the control of the old !”

In this vain-glorious spirit he rejoices that the fortune of war should have planted his country's eagles on the Pacific, whilst its giant steamers sweep in the trade of Europe on the one hand, and bring the treasures of Asia to the mouth of the Sacramento with the other. Thus, to gird the world as with a hoop, and pass a current of American republicanism over the earth, vivifying dead nations, and emancipating mankind, are but small things to the Americans, whose individual superiority among races of lesser vitality, invites and enables them to aspire to commercial and national pre-eminence!'

He often descends to a lower key, and talks as volubly of niggers' and 'darkies, as if his volumes were printed for exclusive reading by the most prejudiced slave-owners in the United States. Instead of expressing satisfaction at the frequent proofs he adduces of the moral elevation of the coloured people, who form nine-tenths of the state he was accredited to, and in whose fortunes he professes to take the deepest interest, he insolently speaks of an Indian student, as a young darkey qualifying himself for the church.'

The inconsistency of this language is the more striking, as Mr. Squier candidly tells his reader, that the better he became acquainted with the various aboriginal families of America, the higher position he was disposed to award them, and the less he was inclined to assent to the relative rank assigned them by systematic writers. “Those of Central America,' he insists, are capable of high improvement, and have a facility of assimilation, or adaptation. They constitute, when favourably situated, the best class of citizens; and would anywhere make what in Europe is called a good rural, or working population. I have found some really comprehensive minds among themmen of quick and acute apprehension, and of great decision and energy of character.'

The topic will be enlarged upon with advantage at a moment when the fate of vast masses of human beings is trembling in the balance in every quarter of the earth, where Christian settlers are in conflict with the aborigines of the soil; and when a natural inferiority in the victims, is eagerly assumed by sciolists in order to excuse the cruelties inflicted by their oppressors. The fact of the frequent disappearance of barbarous tribes where civilized men spread, is seized upon as proof, that providence meant the latter to supersede the former upon earth; whereas, that common experience is, beyond all denial, subject to exceptions, quite strong enough to destroy it as an inevitable rule. On this head, a better witness for the aborigines could not be found than the American envoy, who, against early prejudice, honestly records a deliberate judgment in their favour. A body of civilized Indians presented to him a formal address of compliment in their own and the Spanish languages. It was accompanied by a speech, 'far above the average, both in style and sentiment, and altogether a favourable specimen of Indian eloquence.' The delegates were anxious to know about the Indian population of the United States. On that subject Mr. Squier says—and it will not be doubted that he says sincerely-that'he blushed to be ashamed to tell them the truth.'

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this testimony to the social capacity of a race which still numbers more than sixteen millions in North, Central, and South America, and against which there is going on in North America a war of extermination for want of an efficient police in the United States, N.S.VOL. IV.


which Mr. Squier calls the natural head of the great American family. The humane vindication of that noble title would do the United States infinite honour; and Mr. Squier justly feels that by far the most interesting objects of observation in this region of wonders are the members of the family, whom a revolution from colonial subjection to Spain has raised to independence, and whom philanthropy has relieved not only from a corrupting slavery, but the more corrupting prejudice of colour. The fact which he establishes of this mixed population exhibiting elevation of character as well as elevation of condition, should inspire the statesmen of Washington and New York with other thoughts than those which suggest their own innate superiority to their neighbours of the forest and the tropics. This example settles a great question, proving that the coloured race when in communion with white men, do not necessarily sink, nor white men become degraded by equal communication with coloured people. Their peaceful union is thus not only possible, but mutually beneficial.

* Everywhere in Nicaragua,' says Mr. Squier, the Indian and mixed population greatly predominates, and the pure whites constitute scarcely one-tenth of the whole number. In respect of physique, leaving colour out of the question, there are probably no handsomer men in the world than some of the Sambos, or offspring of Indian and Negro parents. It should be observed, that the negroes of Nicaragua differ very widely in appearance from those of the central states. They must have been derived from an entirely different portion of Africa. They have, in general, aquiline noses, small mouths, and thin lips. In fact, with the exception of the crisp hair and dark skin, they have few of the features which, with us, are regarded as peculiar and universal in the Negro race. The fusion between all portions of the population of Nicaragua has been so complete, that notwithstanding the diversity of races, distinctions of caste are hardly recognised. The whites, in their social intercourse, maintain a certain degree of exclusion; but, in all other relations, the completest equality prevails. This would not probably be the case if the white population was proportionally greater, and possessed the physical power to keep up the distinctions which naturally separate the superior and inferior families of

With a full consciousness of their numerical inferiority, their policy is plainly that of concession ; and however repugnant it may have been originally to their pride, it has now come to be regarded as a matter of course, and is submitted to with a good grace.'

To the laws of old Spain, and the benevolent zeal of the Romish ecclesiastics,is due much of the prosperity of the coloured inhabitants of Central America. The richer classes of purer Spanish descent, who take the lead in society, are rewarded for their patriotic and humane sentiments by the rest of the community giving them its voluntary respect. These richer classes have long extensively allied themselves in marriage with the


representatives of the ancient Indian chiefs. It was the affection of the aborigines of Mexico for a daughter of the house of Montezuma, wife to a Spanish viceroy, that 150 years ago almost led to the independence of that province, and to its severance from Spain. Of late years, the revolution has introduced far wider elements of change in regard to the coloured people of all races.

The way in which personal merit is breaking up the old exclusiveness of rank in this country may be inferred from anecdotes told by Mr. Squier. Speaking of the regular troops, whom he saw reviewed, he says :- These veterans, who were almost entirely true Indians, seemed as impassible as men of bronze. Upon the simplest fare, they will march forty or fifty miles a day, through a country where an equal European or American force would not average ten. Among the officers of the general's staff I observed a full-blooded negro. He distinguished himself by his bravery and fidelity, and was promoted in consequence.'

The condition of the church in Central America is also undergoing a great change. Mr. Squier bears strong testimony to the personal respectability of the priests of Nicaragua, who still exercise considerable influence over the people. Although not highly educated, they are amongst the most active promoters of general improvement. As a body, they at first opposed the revolution; but, having lost much of their power by its success, they have since adopted its spirit, which has severed them widely from European influence, and especially from Rome. The right of appointing to ecclesiastical dignities is vested in the civil power, and the marriage of priests is legalised. With some slight exceptions, the monasteries and convents are suppressed. Nevertheless, not only does much of the Roman superstition remain, as Mr. Squier remarks in his account of the strange public penitences he witnessed, in which blood was drawn from the quivering flesh, but it is clear that more ancient observances have descended to numerous Indians from their heathen ancestors before the arrival of Columbus: One consequence of this change of religious principles is, that Protestants are now tolerated in the country, and it is probable that missionaries from the United States and from England will speedily seek a new field in these regions, and improve on the labours of Mr. Crowe, a Baptist, lately returned from this people.

We were absorbed,' Mr. Squier relates, on one occasion, 'in contemplating the varied beauties of the landscape, when the bells of the city struck the hour of prayer. In an instant every voice was hushed ; the horseman reined in his steed; the rope dropped from the hands of the sailor ; the sentinel on the fort stopped short in his round; even the water-jars by the sides of the lake were left half-filled, while every hat

[ocr errors]

was removed, and every lip closed in prayer. The very waves seemed to break more gently on the shore in harmony with the vibrations of the distant bells, while the subdued hum of reverential voices filled the pauses between. There was something almost magical in this sudden hush of the multitude, and its apparently entire absorption in devotion, which could not fail deeply to impress the stranger witnessing it for the first time.

No sooner, however, had the bells ceased to toll, and struck up the concluding joyful chime, than the crowd on the shore resumed its life and gaiety, while we put spurs to our horses, and dashed through the midst on our return to the city.'

A similar scene may be advantageously copied from a visit to a pure Indian town, Chichigalpa, with a population of three to five thousand souls.

It was just sunset,' says Mr. Squier, 'when we entered its streets. A heavy thunder-storm was piling up its black volumes behind the volcanoes in the east; and the calm and silence that precede a storm rested upon the plains. The winds were still; and the leaves hung motionless on the trees. The adult inhabitants seemed to sympathize with the scene, and sat silent in the open doorways. But the children were as playful and noisy as usual ; their voices rendered doubly distinct and almost unnatural in the pervading quiet. Suddenly the bell of prayer struck ; the careless voices of the children were instantaneously hushed, and we mechanically stopped our horses, and uncovered our heads. A low murmur of prayer floated forth on the undulating waves of sound which seemed to subside in rills around us. Again the bell struck-again, and then, when the pulses had almost ceased to beat, that the straining ear might catch the expiring vibration, rolled in the muffled sound of the distant thunder. It came down from the mountains with the majesty of an ocean, poured along their trembling sides.

"The prayer, that never fails to impress the most careless traveller with a feeling of reverential awe, was but one element in this grand combination of the solemn and the sublime.'

The occupations of these simple people are generally agricultural. They were almost hidden in the recesses of rich forests, the shade of which is as indispensable to protect some portions of their produce, as to shelter themselves from a burning sun.

Their lives are passed in singular freedom from care; and in great abundance although with smalbpossessions. The richer Spanish proprietors have large estates; and Mr. Squier's visit to one of them gives an agreeable insight into the management of the staple produce-cacao-daily becoming more acceptable to us.

'I had arranged,' he says, 'to ride to the cacao estate, called Malanas, five miles from Granada. The road lay through an unbroken forest of

« ForrigeFortsett »